Wednesday 3 August 2011

Women Warriors of India’s Freedom - V

Women participation in the Gandhian movements  of 1920, 1930 and 1942 is significant in that it has no parallel in history. It was characterised by simplicity, piety, integrity, devotion, social responsibility and moral power.
Satyagraha was, in one sense, ‘a moral equivalent of war’ (title of William James’ book, 1910) in which women participated  both as soldiers and generals, adhering to the  principles of truth and Ahimsa, with the weapons of patience and perseverance.
As Satyagraha involved self-purification, the just ‘war’ was as much against oneself as the opponent . It was also an attempt to break the social barriers, which confined women to the four walls of their houses. It was a training in hardships, and involved social programme like rural development, popularisation of handloom cloth, removal of untouchability, etc.
Women were Gandhi’s comrade-in-arms, totally sincere to him and his ideals, and to the task assigned to them. To them he was a great soul (mahatma), an ascetic (tapasvi), a loving father, a leader par excellence, a guide and philosopher, or a messiah who had given them freedom.
From Valliammar Munuswami Mudaliar, the young girl who participated in the South African Satyagraha and died early at age 16, to Sarojini Naidu whom he trusted much in political matters; Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (1889-1964), his Secretary for sixteen years; Sushila Nayyar (1914-2000), his doctor; Manu, his grandniece; and many more like Madeleine Slade(Mira Ben,1892-1982), Sucheta Kriplani (1908-1974), and Aruna Asaf Ali (1909-1996), Mahatma Gandhi had a unique relationship with women whom he regarded as the embodiments of purity and power. He brought out their qualities of leadership, heroism, and of adventure, and evoked their innate spirit of sacrific
When the Non-Cooperation resolution was adopted by the Special Congress session at Calcutta on September 4, 1920, women took to spinning, fasting and prayer, joined protest meetings and broke laws, wherever possible. They raised funds, picketed shops selling liquor or foreign goods, boycotted government institutions and functions, and courted jail. Takli and Charkha appeared in many homes as it found a place in Congress programmes in 1921.
Women made spinning a daily ritual and popularised Khadi, the indigenous cloth. 
In Bengal, the ladies organisation board of the Provincial Congress Committee was so active that Mahatma Gandhi asked women of other states to emulate them. When Basanti Devi, Urmila Devi, and Suniti Devi, wife, sister and niece of Chittaranjan Das(1870-1925), an eminent lawyer and Congress leader, were arrested for defying the ban on political activities, people of all communities came out in their support till they were released.
In Bombay, women registered protest on the arrival of the Prince of Wales (November 17,1921). In Punjab, the movement started on a low note but gained momentum after the exhortations of Lala Lajpat Rai, his wife, Radha Devi, and others. Abadi Bano Begum (Bai Amman), mother of Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, who started the Khilafat agitation, worked strenuously for promoting Hindu-Muslim unity and popularising  the idea of Swaraj.
As per Manade Devi Mukhopadhyaya’s autobiography, Sikshita Patitat Atmacharit, ‘Autobiography of an Educated Fallen Woman’(1929), even prostitutes were enamoured of Mahatma Gandhi and contributed to Congress funds in 1922, ‘and in 1924, participated in C.R.Das’s Satyagraha against the lascivious and corrupt mahant of Tarakeswar temple’.
Women’s participation in national activities continued even after the violent incident at Chauri Chaura (United Provinces) on February 5,1922, and the suspension of mass Civil Disobedience seven days after by the Congress Working Committee.
In Meerut(U.P.), Parvati Devi spoke bitterly of the British Raj, and was imprisoned for two years. Kasturba, wife of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1944), visited Punjab in December 1922 and goaded women to protest against the arrest of male satyagrahis.
When the all-white Simon Commission  landed in Bombay (February 3,1928) to assess the merits of the Government of India Act of 1919, women leaders protested against it wherever it went.
In Bengal, Latika Ghosh, founder of the Mahila Rashtriya Sangh (1928), held such a demonstration against the Commission that it impressed Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose,her mentor. S. Ambujammal (b. 1899) formed the Women’s Swadeshi League (1928) in fulfillment of the Gandhian programme.
Women led by Mithubhan Petit and Bhaktbhan Desai participated in the No-tax campaign during the Bardoli Satyagraha launched by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950) in 1928. All this brought out the qualities of women as organisers, social crusaders and political activists.
(to be continued)
Article by : Satish K. Kapoor
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 May 2011
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